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Enlightner shines a light on criminal injustice

When top lawyer Peter Herbert wroteyesterday about the state criminalising black men, could he have expected that one of the readers would tell a personal story that underscored everything he was talking about?

In an article for the Guardian’s Comment Is Free the part-time judge and immigration tribunal member (pictured above) wrote that the DNA database was an instrument used to jail young people instead of dealing with the root causes of crime.

“Warehousing” young men was, he said, “destroying minority communities instead of rebuilding them.”

Then a Guardian reader called “Enlightner” wrote the following comment:

I’ll share a recent experience of mine. I was invited to a party organized by my work place in a night club/bar in Central London, the work do concluded at 9 PM. Some friends of mine were in the vicinity and I told them to come over, we had a great night out etc.

“Anyway, as we were leaving the bouncers happened to be looking for someone and grabbed my cousin assuming it was him and started shoving him about, he asked them several times to stop being aggressive with him, one particular bouncer punched him in the face and all hell broke loose.

“I got involved because they were literally stomping on him (I was actually trying to calm the situation) to help my bloody first cousin who was getting beat to a pulp – for absolutely no reason.

“The police arrive on the scene, without asking us or any of the witnesses a single question, they bundle us into a van, take us to a police station, immediately photograph us, take our fingerprints, DNA sample etc etc, and throw us in a cell without even telling us what we’re being charged with, they refused to grant us medical assistance (he was hurt badly in particular).

“7 hours later we were charged us with assault, drunken and disorderly, threatening behaviour etc. I was in court yesterday to face these ‘charges’…. My lawyer and everyone else was advising me to plead guilty and take the rap, because it will be worse if I plead no guilty, which would lead to a trial in the Crown Court.

“I still cannot believe how I could potentially have a criminal record (which would affect my future career etc) for trying to stop a family member from being beaten by a bunch of thugs (the bouncers) who are protected by the law to assault anyone, as they can accuse you of being drunk, therefore you’re fair game.

“Anyway, long story short, unfortunately we happen to be black and I’ve never once entertained the thought that my colour and background are a handicap to me. I now realise that the judicial process sees us as just another black troublemaker in court.

“I’ve kept my nose clean for 25 years, went to university in order to make something of myself, contributed what I could to this society and I feel completely powerless, betrayed. At this precise moment, I can’t even say proudly: This is my country – if Britain is supposedly a law abiding country, and this could happen.

“I face up to 1 year in jail or fines perhaps reaching £10,000 because I decided not to plead guilty, depending on the severity of the judge.

“I’m not a criminal, never have committed a crime, yet I’m on the DNA database, can someone please explain that one to me? How on earth could the victim be in court and they can do nothing about being swept up by the ‘process’.

“Furthermore, I cannot afford to hire a barrister and I have to pray that I’m granted Legal Aid, otherwise I’m genuinely screwed. It’s easy to sit on a high horse and say: If you have not committed a crime, you have nothing to fear. I’m finding out otherwise the hard way.!”

Enlightner’s experiences show just how easily people can be criminalised, no matter what the circumstances. We would be happy to talk to that person to see whether they can get better legal representation.

Enlightner sounds like a law-abiding person who, like so many before him, find themselves sucked into the criminal justice system. It’s become so commonplace that we are now taking it for granted.

But we must never accept this state of affairs as the natural order of things.

In his article, Peter Herbert wrote:

“The criminal justice system has become inured to allegations of racism to the extent that we appear to accept that young black men are six or seven times more likely to be stopped and searched as their white counterparts, more likely to obtain a custodial sentence with fewer previous convictions, more likely to be denied bail and more likely to be disproportionately represented in the prison population than any other minority group.”

It is worth reminding ourselves of these facts, because they represent many thousands of real people who may find their future careers and dreams disappear because they have a criminal record.

And while criminals should be punished, the disproportionate way the system effects Black communities should worry us all.

By Lester Holloway


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